Your Age-by-Age Guide to Weaning

There are as many ways to wean as there are moms to tell the tale. But even though there's no universal approach, there are a few golden rules that can help the transition go smoothly for you and baby. The first rule? Be prepared. To that end, we've rounded up lactation consultants, developmental experts, and real moms to help you get both mind and body ready for weaning.

Weaning 101

Do It Gradually

When it comes to helping your kiddie kick the milk habit, the rule of thumb is to go slowly. This will protect your breasts from engorgement and ease your baby's anxiety. Freda Rosenfeld, former president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association, says you can never go too slowly, but be sure to drop only one feeding every three or four days so that it takes about two weeks for the entire process. Drop the least preferred feedings first, which likely means the morning and bedtime feedings will be the last to go.

Amp Up Attention

The intimacy that goes with breastfeeding is what moms and babies miss most when nursing ends. So be sure to lavish your baby with lots of extra attention during the weaning process. "You'll want to substitute nursing with something that feels emotionally equivalent, like snuggling together to read or even horseplay on the floor," counsels Diane Bengson, author of How Weaning Happens (La Leche League International) and longtime Ohio La Leche League leader. And don't forget how helpful your partner can be. Having Daddy put the baby to sleep and wake her up in the morning can soften the blow of not nursing during these times.

Think About Timing

It's impossible to predict exactly how your child will react to weaning, but there are certain ages and developmental periods when change in general is tricky. Claire Lerner, LCSW, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, in Washington, D.C., advises against weaning during a time when your child is undergoing another significant change, such as moving homes, starting daycare, or even learning to walk.

But, Lerner adds, timing depends on your child's temperament: "If you have a go-with-the-flow kind of child who handles transitions well, then something like a vacation might be a good time to wean, but otherwise it's best to wean when things are pretty stable in their lives."

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